Review Summary: In its own way, this album is everything we could have hoped for: freewheeling, easygoing, generous, and, of course, breathtakingly gorgeous.E S T A R A
, the second full-length release from L.A. beatmaker Teebs, has been met with a reaction best characterized as lukewarm. “Rather static and enclosed,” quips Tinymixtapes’ Stephen Weil, where The Quietus’ Ed Ledsham opts for “pleasant background music”. I am not here to start any fights or pick any bones; the unanimous pitch of “bleh”-ness emanating from E S T A R A
’s Metacritic page doesn’t so much anger as impress me. As we all learned from 2010’s wonderful Ardour
, the act of reviewing music like this boasts a particular futility--it either makes you feel all cuddly inside or it doesn’t, and reducing that response to a snare hit here or a synth wash there feels a bit, well, reductive. This is all to say that I have a lot of respect for these critics, and almost all of them provide a cohesive rundown of why the album just doesn’t float their boat. But in the end, for someone attached to Teebs’ aesthetic as I am, it can sort of resemble a bunch of dudes standing around and pointing at a sunset and being all like, “Totally overrated.”
I realize this is a bit unfair. There are certainly elements of E S T A R A
we can latch onto without getting all slack-jawed, and most of them, indeed, indicate that it’s a step down from Teebs’ luscious debut. That album’s eighteen bite-sized loops cumulatively resembled, to me, the video game Super Mario Galaxy
: a bunch of full-fleshed planets, each with their own distinct colors and mood, in which you can walk around for a while before getting blasted off to the next one, all of it calibrated for immense aesthetic gratification. This album, I understand, feels a bit more like a demo--a little choppier, more raw, bearing what feels like ample empty space in between its more substantial jams. “Shoouss Lullaby” twinkles about for two minutes before a hefty drum loop anchors it to Earth…and then immediately disappears. “Sotm” goes so far as to rip its percussive sample from Ardour
’s “Moments,” anchoring it to a much more subdued background.
If the beauty on E S T A R A
seems somewhat attenuated--like the faint scatter of birds on its cover compared to the panoply of colors on Ardour
’s--then so be it, because it’s still damn beautiful. The three tracks that open the album, for example, could easily do battle with any of the material on Teebs' debut. “The Endless” is a quick, snapping intro that evokes the pleasant residue left over from a great party in its minute-forty-nine duration. “View Point” is the kind of stuff Ardour
prepared us for, stuffed with shaker, bells, bongos, pad synths, and the patented Teebs Unidentified Twinkling Noise in the background, like theme music for a rainforest. For the track’s last thirty or so seconds, Teebs fades in an alluring string sample, the kind of magically evocative touch he seems alone capable of producing. This all intros “Holiday,” an absolutely sumptuous four minutes in which Jonti self-harmonizes over a production that sounds like the result of Teebs hooking the master output of his mixer to the heartbeat of an angel.
To what, then, does this add up? I’ll give the critics their due: E S T A R A
is not as strong an album as Ardour
, not as surprising because it couldn’t possibly be. But in its own, attenuated, scattered-birds way, this album is everything we could have hoped for: freewheeling, easygoing, generous, and, of course, breathtakingly gorgeous. It’s imperfect, sure; gifts have a tendency to be. Cherish it anyhow.